BLM rule for renewable energy leasing of federal lands

Monday, November 14, 2016

The federal Bureau of Land Management has issued a final rule establishing a competitive process for leasing federal lands for renewable energy development.  The Obama administration describes the rule as strengthening the agency's existing "Smart from the Start" leasing program, consistent with the president's Climate Action Plan.  But following the 2016 election, the future Trump administration could change the agency's course.

Part of the Department of the Interior, the BLM manages federal lands across the U.S.  While BLM lands have been used for mining for years, under the Obama administration BLM took steps to open up federal lands for leasing for renewable energy projects.  Under federal laws including the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), BLM is authorized to issue what it calls "grants" -- easements, leases, licenses, and permits to occupy, use or traverse public lands for particular purposes -- for facilities for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric energy, and oil and gas pipelines.

On November 10, BLM released its final rule, "Competitive Processes, Terms, and Conditions for Leasing Public Lands for Solar and WindEnergy Development and Technical Changes and Corrections for 43 CFR Parts 2800and 2880.”  It amends BLM's regulations governing rights-of-way issued under two federal laws.  BLM described the amendments as necessary to "facilitate responsible solar and wind energy development on BLM-managed public lands and to ensure that the American taxpayer receives fair market value for such development."

The final rule includes provisions to promote the use of preferred areas for solar and wind energy development.  These areas, called “designated leasing areas” (DLAs), are defined parcels of land with specific boundaries identified by the BLM land use planning process as being a preferred location for solar or wind energy that can be leased competitively for energy development.

The rule expands BLM's existing regulations, allowing BLM to offer lands competitively on its own initiative, both inside and outside DLAs, even in the absence of identified competition. Within DLAs, the rule will require competitive leasing procedures except in certain circumstances, when applications could be consider ed outside the competitive process. Outside DLAs, the BLM will have discretion whether to utilize competitive leasing procedures.

The final rule also updates payments charged by BLM, to ensure that it obtains fair market value for the use of public lands.  Updated fee structures include both an acreage rent and a megawatt-capacity fee.

Given the November 8 election results, it is unclear whether the Trump administration will continue in this direction.  While campaigning, President-elect Trump emphasized leasing more federal land for fossil fuel production.  The BLM renewable energy rule's future is thus in question.

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